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The lettering system that Yamaha have used for their U3 line of pianos can be a bit confusing so I’ve written this page in the hope that it will be of some use to people out there in internet-land. Here goes…
The first thing to say is that every single Yamaha U3 that has ever existed was made in Japan at the Hamamatsu factory which is responsible for making all of Yamaha’s highest quality pianos including the £100,000+ concert grand piano, the CFIIIS.
So you can relax knowing that if you’ve found a Yamaha U3 that you are interested in, you KNOW that it was made in Japan, and that’s a very good start indeed. Beyond that, you will want to know what year it was made and whether there were any good or bad periods of Yamaha piano manufacture
What do the letters stand for
If you look just to the left of the serial number of most Yamaha U3 pianos you will usually see a letter. The most common tends to be “U3H” but it can be anything from U3F, U3G, U3H, U3M, U3A, U3N, U3E. Here are some bits of information about what those letterings stand for.
Here are my comments about the various models
If your budget is tight or you enjoy a particularly soft sound then this age range could be OK for you. The serial numbers of these pianos will range from around 100,000 up to 1,000,000. If the piano is in original condition or has only had minimal reconditioning work then you should try to avoid that piano. If the piano has been properly and professionally reconditioned then it should be fine but I would still recommend that (a) you get the piano inspected by an independent technician and (b) perhaps save up £200-£300 more to buy a U3G (below) instead
These models date from the early 1970s, have serial numbers between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 and are a better option compared with the U3F (above). The U3G is likely to have a similar, soft sound to the U3F (particularly in the bottom few octaves) although the rest of the keyboard can sound very nice if properly reconditioned. Overall, my opinion on the U3G is that you should try hard to stretch your budget and go for a U3H if possible. If you must buy a U3G please do hire your own independent technician to inspect the piano for you, it will be the best £50 you can spend. You must make sure a piano of this period has been properly reconditioned.
Yamaha U3H (1970-1980)
Yamaha U3 pianos in this category are mostly excellent and have serial numbers ranging from 2,000,000 up to 3,000,000. The U3H comes from a time when Yamaha had perfected what a modern piano should be. Strong, reliable, consistent, warm tone, beautiful action and, most importantly, top quality materials and top quality workmanship which (in my opinion) you don’t find in any of the modern pianos being produced by countless piano factories that are springing up all over the world producing cheaper and cheaper pianos. The U3H ranges from about 1970-1980 and I find that from the 1975 point onwards the qualify is very high. Some of the early 70s U3H pianos can be very nice but I recommend sticking to the later ones.
Yamaha U3M (1980-1982)
You can trust a Yamaha U3M to be of a very high standard of build quality. You do still need to make sure that a full reconditioning process has been carried out before buying a piano from this period but providing that work has been carried out to the right standard then you will get yourself a very nice piano at a sensible price.
The Yamaha U3M typically has a nice, positive tone about it but without being harsh or overly bright like some of the younger U3s can sometimes be.
Yamaha U3A (mostly 1983-1984)
The U3A can sometimes have a slightly stronger bottom 2 octaves than the U3M but this is only an occasional blip and by no means a set rule. I fully recommend this model alongside the U3M.
MORE RESEARCH NEEDED
I think this model COULD have been made in the UK. That goes against what I previously believed (that all U3s have always been made in Japan) so I’ll need to read up on this and update this article ASAP.
Other similar Models
There are several other models which are very similar to a Yamaha U3. Here is a list of those models.* Yamaha U30BL * Yamaha U30A